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Good Schools Guide

How the IB encourages curiosity and why it is important in today’s world

Curriculum prompts students to ask questions and work in teams, as in real life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 11:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 11:00am

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) is designed to prepare students between the ages of three and 12 to be active participants in a lifelong journey of learning. It also focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, in the classroom and in the wider world.

With its emphasis on inquiry around the globe, including Hong Kong, the IBPYP curriculum promotes creativity within an international context, and is increasingly popular with schools and parents.

The curriculum framework is built around six trans-disciplinary themes that focus on who we are; where we are in place and time; how we express ourselves; how the world works; how we organise ourselves, and sharing the planet.

Helen Thomson, vice-principal at English Schools Foundation (ESF) Wu Kai Sha International Kindergarten, says there is a wide scope for teaching and learning under the trans-disciplinary themes’ umbrella. Because of the breadth of the IBPYP “learner profile”, Thomson says the IBPYP framework allows children to become open-minded, balanced and knowledgeable thinkers.

“The IBPYP is not just about academic learning – it helps children become the people parents want them to become,” Thomson says. Her faculty colleague, Alli Brown, agrees. “The IBPYP gets children ready for the big, wide world,” the teacher says. Whether it is maths, languages or the creative arts, the IBPYP provides opportunities for children to explore and engage with topics that interest them, she says.

The IBPYP gets children ready for the big, wide world
Alli Brown, ESF Wu Kai Sha International Kindergarten

“The IBPYP allows children to become the best they can be,” Brown explains. Even for young learners, the IBPYP curriculum requires students to ask questions, search for answers and to reflect on their findings, she adds.

For instance, in an age-appropriate way, ESF Tsing Yi students examine climate change and their own environment, Brown says.

While the thought of a career may be some way off in a technology-driven future, the empathy, creativity and critical-thinking that her young learners acquire are skills that can’t be easily automated, Brown says.

Simon Misso-Veness, the German Swiss International School (GSIS) head of English Secondary, says one of the central tenets of the diploma programme (IBDP) is that students seek to apply their knowledge to real-life situations.

For example, the IBDP aims to build students’ learning capacities in research, communication, collaboration, self-management and critical thinking, all of which support them for independent learning at university, and for the uncertainties of the future, where the concept of a singular career path is fragmenting and the need to work with others in diverse fields could be the norm.

As one of the IBDP six-subject groups from which students are required to choose a topic to study, Misso-Veness says Natural Sciences – which include biology, chemistry, physics and computer science – allow students to examine the interconnection between real-world applications.

For example, the Marine Advanced Technology Education (Mate) World competition – in which GSIS students participate as part of their extracurricular activity programme – challenges students to apply the physics, maths, electronics, and engineering skills they learn in the classroom to solve problems in the marine workplace. The GSIS team has again qualified for this month’s Mate World Championships in the US.

With interaction between humans and robots predicted to become commonplace, GSIS students have also been working on Lego Mindstorms – the development of programmable robots based on Lego building blocks.

“Our aim is to participate in some of the robot competitions, such as the First Lego League and the World Robot Olympiad,” Misso-Veness says.

The IB is highly regarded by universities because of its rigour and breadth of subjects, Misso-Veness says. Parents generally like the way the IBDP prepares students for university through the combination of a rigorous academic programme and learning beyond the classroom. The IBDP is accepted at the world’s top universities, many of which value the attributes of an IB student as they are well-prepared for independent study and collaboration.

For example, Natasha Hirt, a Year 13 student at GSIS, refers to the lessons of an experimental “Earth, Air, Fire and Water” science project she completed last year. She says it is easy to consider the four sciences – physics, chemistry, computer science, and biology – as distinct from each other, but the opposite is true.

“The emphasis of our project was on interdisciplinary cooperation and the processes involved in scientific investigation, rather than on simply producing a set of results,” she says.

The focus was on the student’s personal self-motivation and perseverance, working within a team and the ability for self-reflection, rather than on a content-driven formal assessment, Hirt explains.

British school in Switzerland offers scholarships

One of the advantages that International Baccalaureate (IB) offers is its global access. Students and parents are allowed to choose, apply and transfer to any IB schools around the world.

Earlier this year, Le Régent Crans-Montana College in Switzerland, a British international school which opened in 2015, was authorised by the IB organisation to become an IB World School offering the Diploma Programme for years 12-13 pupils starting this September.

To attract more quality students and candidates to join the school on the inaugural year of the programme, the school has launched a scholarship scheme worth 40 per cent of the total outlay for boarding students from a variety of nationalities and backgrounds who have a strong academic track record and who it is believed will fare well in the IB programme.

“We have also decided to offer this possibility of a scholarship to strong Year 11 (IGCSE) candidates who might be interested in transferring to us this year,” says Mary Sidebottom, director of admissions of Le Régent Crans-Montana College. The fees for boarding students are 88,000 Swiss francs for the IB Diploma and 85,000 Swiss francs for Years 9-11.